Public vs Private College Statistics

College degrees, or more precisely, post-secondary education is becoming an increasingly hot commodity. According to a research by Georgetown University, on Education and Workforce, up to 65% of jobs will need at least some postsecondary degree, by 2020. That is a 6% rise over 2010’s 59%.

This is indeed a very big impetus for students to seek out college education, for not only domestic students in the US, but also international students who partake in the US higher education system in large numbers. And in this education system, the large number of Public, and Private, Universities are the main agents of disbursing degrees to college hopefuls.

While both university systems offer an excellent means of education, public universities generally tend to lead in the number of enrolments. Since the great recession of 2008, public university enrolments have risen by almost 8% to 15 million, while private universities have seen a jump of 5.5% to 5.4 million. This rise is mainly owed to the convenient option of gaining a college degree over a lackluster employment in the post-recession era of 2008.

Besides the public and the private university systems, USA also has Liberal Arts Colleges, Community Colleges and For-Profit Colleges. However, in this article, we will compare and contrast public and private universities.

We will discuss the main difference between public and private institutions in the US, focusing on what causes public universities to make up over 70% of the post-secondary student body. The unbalance is due to two main factors.

Public vs Private College Statistics

Difference in Public (State) University and Private University Tuition and Enrolment in the US


Funding statistics

Average tuition is generally lower, in public universities, as compared to private universities. Public universities are largely funded by state governments, local taxes, and tuition from students. Even faculty salaries come from government support.

This structure began way back in the 1800s when local governments began to realize the importance of encouraging their residents to take on higher education. For instance, in 2012, 51% of education expenses were covered by the state agencies, 6% by local taxes, a small portion by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and the rest 42% covered by net tuition.

The numbers were similar, though without the ARRA support, in 2013.The contribution from the government drives the cost down as compared to private universities which usually rely on private donations from alumni, endowments, and other corporate contributions. Hence, the chunk of the tuition is usually paid for by the students.

Tuitions, for either type of university system also depends on the residency status of the candidates. State residents, better known as in-state candidates, pay less tuition as compared to non-residents, or out-of-state candidates. International students too fall in the out-of-state category and are often not beneficiaries to the tuition break that residents can avail.
Nevertheless, the average tuition, in public universities, still turns out to be largely lower than private schools, as we will find out shortly. Professional programs are a whole other story and there are ones, especially like MBA, where the cost of education is often irrelevant to the parent funding of the institute.

The system, in such cases, works mostly out of brand value and there are many public MBA programs that are much costlier than the lesser known private programs.

Selectivity and acceptance rate statistics

Private universities usually exercise a strict control in the quality and quantity of students admitted to their programs. Their campuses are smaller, their programs handpicked by the school administration, and their acceptance rates are especially low as compared to their public-school counterparts.

Here are some of the undergraduate acceptance rates in the top American private universities compared to the top public ones.

Private University Acceptance Rate
University of Chicago 8%
MIT 8%
Stanford University 5%
Duke University 11%
California Institute of Technology 8%
Public University Acceptance Rate
University of Michigan 29%
University of California Berkeley 17.3%
University of California Los Angeles 18%
University of North Carolina 27%
University of Virginia 27%

Though the acceptance rates may vary between the individual programs, the above table clearly indicates an inherent exclusive nature that most top private universities, many of which fall under the elite Ivy Leagues categories, practice.

Here are some more details on the basic public vs private university discussion explored in the following articles.


The tables below show a snippet of overall world ranking, and the tuition differences, between the top tier institutes in the two university systems. You be the judge of the tuition differences.
Although, a disclaimer, here, is that these numbers are not necessarily uniform across the board for various programs. For universities where we could not obtain a single average, we relied on the tuition cost for the internationally pursued MS/BS degrees in Engineering. For professional degrees, like MBA, we would like to direct you to the following article – Best MBA in the US: Rankings, Cost, Post Salaries

List of the top Private Universities with costs

World Ranking (QS) Private University Average Tuition
#1 MIT Undergraduate: $48,452/9 months

Graduate: $48,452/9 months + $16,030/summer

#2 Stanford University Undergraduate: ~$15,000/quarter

Graduate: ~$16,000/quarter in Engineering

#3 Harvard University Undergraduate: $43,280

Graduate: $47,000

#4 California Institute of Technology Undergraduate: ~$48,000

Graduate: $46,000

#9 University of Chicago Undergraduate: $55,000

Graduate: ~$6,000/course

#13 Princeton University Undergraduate: $49,300/year

Graduate: $47,100/year

#14 Cornell University Undergraduate: ~$53,000 for Engineering at Endowed Colleges

Graduate: $30,000 for Engineering

#16 Yale University Undergraduate: ~$51,000

Graduate: $41,000

#18 Columbia University Undergraduate: $27,250/semester in Engineering

Graduate: $46,500/year

#19 University of Pennsylvania Undergraduate: $45,500

Graduate: $49,500


List of the top Public Universities with costs

World Ranking (QS) Public University Average Undergraduate Tuition Average Graduate Tuition
#21 University of Michigan (Engineering)

$26,000 for Out-of-State

$10,000 for In-State


$24,000 for Out-of-State

$13,000 for In-State

#27 University of California Berkeley ~$14,000/year


#33 University of California Los Angeles $13,300/year


$16,000/year for In-State

$32,000 for Out-of-State

#38 University of California San Diego $14,000/year for In-State

$28,000/year for Out-of-State

#67 University of Texas Austin $5,500/semester for In-State

$19,100/semester for Out-of-State

$5,200/semester for In-State

$10,000/semester for Out-of-State

#69 University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign $16,000-$21,000/year for In-State

$32,000-$37,000/year for Out-of-State

$12,600/year for In-State

$26,000/year for Out-of-State

#70 Georgia Institute of Technology $10,000/year for In-State

$30,600/year for Out-of-State

$6,000 for more than 3 Credit Hours
#80 University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill $9,000 for In-State

$34,500 for Out-of-State

$6,000/9 Credit Hours and more, for In-State

$14,500/9 Credit Hours and more, for Out-of-State

#105 Purdue University $10,000/year for In-State

$29,000/year for Out-of-State

$5,600/semester for In-State

$15,000/semester for Out-of-State

#173 University of Virginia $13,300/year for In-State

$43,200/year for Out-of-State


$16,500/year for In-State

$27,200/year for Out-of-State

It is clear that public universities generally tend to be a lot more forgiving when it comes to cost of attendance. Most students rely on financial aids and student loans to finish their university education.

Tuition for PhD Students in Public and Private Universities

The current tuition system for PhD students, especially in STEM fields, involves a tuition waiver offered by the universities, both public and private. Students are usually employed in some form of Teaching or Research Assistantships and the stipend, that they are offered each month, provides them the means of livelihood. Small, yet enough to survive the few years of the doctoral program.

However, the tuition relief may be in jeopardy under the new provisions of the 2017 tax reforms. The reforms, proposed by the GOP government, and currently under consideration, threatens to tax graduate students who receive tuition waivers from the university. Since the current system taxes PhD students on only the stipend amount, they usually fall in the low-income bracket.

However, if the bill passes, the income tax will include the waived tuition as an additional income. This can shoot up their income bracket well into the $80K category, thus creating a lot of trouble for graduate PhD students.

Public and private universities alike, in this case, can suffer with a similar consequence of graduate students dropping out of enrolment. It is possible, though, for private universities to obtain endowments, or donations, to aid the PhD students. However, until then, public and private university PhD students face a similar potential peril.

Both the university systems, along with the liberal arts, community, and for-profit, colleges in America, are undoubtedly some of the best-known education institutions in the world. Private universities often enjoy a stronghold when it comes to brand value, fame, and funding from private benefactors.

Public universities offer large enrolment opportunities and lower tuition fees while often maintaining an excellent standard of education. If you are considering either, it is best to research the overall desirability of your program, its quality, cost, and other factors that will enrich your college experience.

Here are some links to help you make your choice.


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  1. Sayanna says:

    Hello, i am just college passout of Bcom specialised in marketig. I want to pursue management course from foreign universities. Should I give Gmat or Gre?

  2. viji says:

    I am Viji going to choose specialization in Mba can you tell me which sector is good at market at present scenario. Please guide me to choose specialization in MBA

  3. angad singh says:

    hi. i am in the final year of undergrad(bba). i am interested in goimg to canada for masters. any university that dont require any work experience. i plan on working in Canada and applying for PR

  4. Gurkirat says:

    I completed my inter and wanted to go abroad for post graduation , but i cant choose regular study as an option for under graduation so what should i do bba correspondence or bcomb correspondence.

  5. Aman verma says:

    I come from a middle class family..and also not so mba a good option for me..??? If yes then which college i should choose.?? So that my parents cam afford it.
    Kindly answer my question.

  6. Kamalpreet says:

    Hello sir,
    I am a student of computer science 2nd year and I want to choose Marketing and HR as my career in and wish to do it in USA . so what should i do. being a little bit confused about my future. please help me out.

  7. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Sayanna: Get a few more years of experience first, before considering international bschools. On the GMAT vs GRE query, read this:

    @Viji: Here’s a list of specialisations that are in demand:

    @Angad: For MS degrees, universities are quite flexible about experience. But it would be in your interest to get some good work exposure first before going abroad. It’ll help you during placements.

    @Gurkirat: There are universities that accept correspondence degrees. Here are a few:

    @Aman: You can always try to apply to univerisites where you can get scholarships. Like these applicants have done:

    @Kamalpreet: Complete your degree and work for a few years. You’ll become better aware of your interests and aptitude. Take the MS or MBA degree decision then.

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